A Killingly High School football player returned to the field last week, one year after cancer took away what was supposed to be his senior season.
Just 13 months ago, Vasileios Politis was watching his friends practice. Though he wasn’t able to play, he provided a spark for his teammates and that kept his spirits up.
“Physically I was six feet under, but mentally and spiritually — especially because of these guys around me and coming here as much as I could – I was through the roof,” Politis said.
He was bald, pale, 40 pounds lighter than today, and due to complications from the chemotherapy that he needed to treat his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he had foot drop. To say that he was far away from gameplay would be an understatement.
“You are as far from it as you possibly could imagine,” Politis said. “Every step, you’re scared that you are going to fall because your foot is hanging.”
The foot drop gave him an awkward gait and forced him to use crutches. Walking in general was brutal with lymph nodes flaring in his groin, which was the spot where the cancer first appeared in March of 2016.
But “VP” (as his friends and coaches call him) never stopped training to get back. He went through seven rounds of chemotherapy and a ton of physical therapy. In February, he found out the cancer was gone.
“It was a big day in life,” Politis said. “Not really so much for me, but to see everyone’s reaction around me and reassure them that everything is in the clear.”
Because he missed about a quarter of his junior year due to his illness, Politis needed more time to complete his academic requirements. And he needed to prove he was okay medically to play football so the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body of high school sports, would allow him to play a fifth year.
He got it and he was back on the field this past summer.
Politis now has a full head of dark hair and a beard to match it. The wide receiver is building his weight and strength, but he said he needs to get faster. Still, his new quarterback Luke Desaulnier never doubted that he’d have Politis to throw to this season.
“I knew V was a strong kid and still is,” Desaulnier said. “I always had that feeling deep down that he would because I knew how much he loved football and how much he cared for this team.”
VP said that it took him awhile to get it back mentally.
“Between then and there, [I] lost the confidence that I had,” Politis said. “And if I’m being honest, I didn’t have the confidence until last Friday.”
— Killingly Football (@Redmenfootball1) September 9, 2017
Early in game one, after Killingly took the ball away from East Lyme, coach Chad Neal decided to take a chance with his first play-call.
“One of the things after a turnover, especially on the side of the 50 that we were on, is that we like to take a shot at the end zone,” Neal said.
The call was a play-action, which means the quarterback faked the hand-off to the running back and the defense ran to defend the run. Meanwhile, VP slanted 25 yards up the field to get wide-open for a pass.
“All that I could think was just put it somewhere in his area,” Desaulnier said. “And I knew he’d come down with it.”
On the first play of the season, Politis made good on his return with a 40-yard touchdown reception.
“Last year was far from my mind,” Politis said. “I was completely in football mode. And I knew what was open. I knew where the safety was, saw him come up, and I knew where I needed to be.”
Outside of his family, no one visited VP more during the bad times than Neal, who himself was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma four years ago. He used that experience to help his wide receiver make it through. If you think he was too into coaching at that moment to recognize the significance of what had happened, you’d be wrong.
“I was tearing up,” Neal said. “I was telling my coach ‘I’m running into the end zone and hugging him.’ I’m so happy for him and his family [after] what he went through. And to have that moment.”
What a difference a year makes.
“There were so many obstacles, but luckily I’m good at overcoming obstacles,” Politis said.
Politis told me that he’s not yet thinking about a football career beyond this season because he’s so happy with what he’s got now. When he gets to college, he’s interested in majoring in physical therapy.